Relationships

How to Encourage a Loved One to Seek Mental Health Support

Over the past 20 years, the number of adults in the U.S. seeking talk therapy has risen 15% to nearly 42 million. Many providers offer telehealth as well as in-person appointments, so people are finding it easier to incorporate therapy into their schedules. For many, choosing therapy for themselves is much simpler than suggesting it […]

Author Generic Image By Grow Therapy

Updated on May 29, 2024

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Over the past 20 years, the number of adults in the U.S. seeking talk therapy has risen 15% to nearly 42 million. Many providers offer telehealth as well as in-person appointments, so people are finding it easier to incorporate therapy into their schedules. For many, choosing therapy for themselves is much simpler than suggesting it to a partner, family member or loved one. Licensed mental health counselor Rachael “Rainier” Wells empathizes, saying, “Bringing up the concept of therapy can be challenging, as individuals can reply differently based on their concepts about what therapy is.” Though it feels difficult to bring up therapy with your loved one, with some guideposts and suggestions from professionals, you’ll feel confident you can do so with love and kindness.

Signs Your Partner Might Benefit From Therapy

Everyone goes through ups and downs, but when certain behaviors linger longer than a couple of weeks, it might mean a loved one in your life could benefit from professional help. 

“When someone sees a sudden change [in their partner or loved one], regardless of an identified origin,” explains Wells, “this can be an indicator for therapy.”

How to Suggest Therapy to a Loved One

Broaching the subject of therapy with your loved one might feel a little intimidating. Many people have misconceptions or personal or cultural stigmas around mental health and therapy that make it difficult to seek help. You bringing it up might strike a tender spot.

Start by examining your motives for suggesting therapy. Are you irritated with this person and want someone to set them straight? A conversation about therapy works best when you’re coming from a place of love with your loved one’s best interest and happiness in mind.

Tips for Suggesting Therapy to Your Loved One

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. When you come from a place of love and genuine concern for your loved one, your demeanor and tone reflect that love rather than judgment and blame. Lead with empathy, indicating you realize things have been difficult for them and you want to help.

Find a Quiet, Calm Moment to Talk

Don’t tell your loved one to get therapy when you’re in the middle of a disagreement. Doing so automatically puts them in a defensive position. Instead, find a time when you both are calm and aren’t in a rush, ideally in a private location that’s relaxing for you both.

Use “I Statements”

Don’t label or diagnose your loved one. “In a relationship with healthy boundaries,” notes Eshan Sun, MFT, “it’s not one person’s job to fix the other person.” Instead of offering unsolicited advice, Sun continues, “express your concerns about what you notice.” He suggests starting with something like, “I’m really worried about you. Looks like you’ve been sleeping three hours a night recently.” This empathetic statement of curiosity shows you care about your loved one and creates space for them to share; you aren’t judging their behavior or telling them what they should be doing. 

Avoid Controlling Language

This conversation isn’t the time for ultimatums or coercion. There may come a time when you have to evaluate the tenability of your relationship, but right now you’re there to help them see something they may not recognize in themselves and offer genuine support to seek help. Wells suggests sharing your positive experience with therapy if you have one: “I have found an objective, warm person, through therapy, to be helpful,” you might say.  

How to Support Your Loved One’s Therapy

If your loved one is willing to start therapy, that’s a major step in the right direction. Here are a few ideas to help you support them while they overcome insecurities and take this brave step toward healing.

Ask your loved one what would be helpful for them. Would they like to talk about things they explore in therapy or not? Would they like help with homework exercises? This is their journey, so center their preferences on how much to include you.

Respect their privacy. One important factor for successful therapy is confidentiality. You can support your loved one’s vulnerable work by being willing to listen if they want to talk about anything related to their therapy sessions. If they are more comfortable not sharing, respect their choice and don’t pry. Never share with others something they have discussed with you.

In a relationship with healthy boundaries... it’s not one person's job to fix the other person.

- Eshan Sun, MFT

Manage your expectations. Therapy is a process, not a quick fix. Some issues take time to resolve and change, so do your best to be patient as your partner works with their therapist. If you’re not already in therapy, consider it for yourself as a source of emotional support. Your partner’s therapy won’t solve all of your relationship problems, so it’s healthy to acknowledge and address your weaknesses.

Offer encouragement when things get sticky. Therapy isn’t linear, and your partner will have highs and lows while they work with their therapist. Celebrate even small accomplishments and recognize the value in the hard work they are doing.

What if Your Loved One isn’t Willing or Ready to Seek Therapy?

Even with your sincere support, your loved one may not be up for getting therapy. “It is important to respect the need of someone to process, learn more about therapy, and dignify other methods of healing,” says Wells. They have to choose it for themselves if it is to be effective. So what can you do?

Get Emotional Support

It isn’t healthy for you to be the only person your loved one can count on for emotional and mental support. Make sure you’re getting emotional support from your therapist or others you trust. Self-care is a must: consistent sleep, healthy eating, regular exercise, mindfulness, and hobbies are all part of taking care of yourself.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Be kind but honest with your loved one about what is and isn’t acceptable in your relationship. You can’t control their choices or actions, but you also aren’t obligated to abide by problematic behavior. Setting boundaries and holding firm will benefit you both.

Should I Tell My Loved One What Happens in Therapy?

Whether you talk to your loved one about what you discuss in therapy is completely up to you. You certainly aren’t required to, but you might consider it if sharing would help you in your work.

Reasons You Might Share

Talking about therapy may help you and your loved one grow closer. Topics that come up in therapy include your thoughts, worries, values, upbringing, and goals. Sharing some of this with your loved one may help them understand you better and give more context to your struggles. “Some individuals share because it helps them show their loved one new insights, challenges, needs, and boundaries,” Wells says. 

Reasons You Might Keep It Private

You might not want to involve your loved one in certain issues, like concerns about your career, a workplace problem, or a relationship with another loved one. 

You might choose to delay sharing what you discuss in therapy if it directly affects your relationship. In addition, Wells says that “a person may choose to keep therapy between themselves and their clinician due to trust issues, comfort, adjusting to emotional insight and upheaval, [and] personal beliefs about privacy.” Wells continues, “Challenges like a lack of safety or understanding or the presence of abuse” might also prevent someone from sharing.

How to Talk to Your Loved One About Your Own Therapy

If you do wish to talk with your loved one about your discussions and insights during therapy, a few suggestions will help you get clear on your intentions and share in a way that is helpful.

Define Your Goal for Sharing

Ask yourself, “Why do I want to share this?” Do you feel pressured to share something or guilty if you don’t? Make sure the impulse is coming from you with the intent to get more out of your therapy experience. You can always ask your therapist to help you examine your motivations.

Decide in Advance What and How Much to Share

Before having a conversation with your loved one, think through exactly what you want to talk about so you don’t overshare by accident. Maybe a summary of the general idea feels right to you rather than going into all the details.

You Can Change Your Mind

Even if you’ve started sharing something, if you realize it doesn’t feel right, you can always stop, saying something like, “As I’m talking about this, I’m realizing I’m not quite ready to talk about it yet.” If you debrief after your first time in therapy, you aren’t obligated to keep doing so every time. That’s up to you.

Avoid Weaponizing Therapy

It can be tempting to zing your loved one with a comment your therapist made that validates a concern you have about them. Bringing up your therapist’s response to your loved one’s actions might make them feel ambushed like you’re teaming up with the therapist to win an argument. If you’re unsure, talk to your therapist about healthy ways of bringing your concerns to your loved one.

Final Thoughts on Mental Health and Wellbeing

Most anyone can benefit from therapy. We don’t think twice about scheduling a checkup for our physical health; why not support our mental health with the same attention and care? When you feel better, you do better. Give yourself that gift and encourage your loved ones to check on their mental health, too.

FAQs

  • Make sure you’re coming from a place of love and support rather than blame and judgment. Find a private, calm place to talk and share your concerns with “I Statements.” Explain how you think therapy might help them be happier.

  • It’s completely up to you. You might want to help them understand you and give them an opportunity to support you. You might postpone sharing if you discuss in your sessions issues that directly impact the relationship. When you have more clarity, it might be a better time to discuss with your loved one.

  • Leading with empathy, gently share your concerns and observations. Avoid judgment and blame and share why you think getting help would be in their best interest.

  • Absolutely! But it very much matters how you do it. Don’t ask as a weapon during an argument. In a calm moment when you’re in a private space, share your thoughts honestly with your partner. While you can suggest it, you can’t force them to actually do it.

  • Be willing to listen but don’t pressure your partner to divulge details about their sessions. Encourage them when the process gets difficult and celebrate successes.

  • The only person you can control is yourself. It’s ok to set healthy boundaries about what is and isn’t ok in your relationship. If you’re experiencing deal-breakers with your partner and they aren’t willing to get help, you’ll have to consider if you can continue the relationship in its current state.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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